Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fitting Inn

I have returned to the hated rigamarole of daily gymgoing. Oh, how I hate it, but the only way to be free of it is to keep doing it, so I do. Part of what prevented me before was that I wanted to go to Schwarzenegger’s gym, hoping that I would get stronger via a contact high from the Ahnold-steroid-sweat that he left on the dumbbells 40 years ago. Alas, that gym is gone. There is the Giants gym, where the Graz football team practices, but they have no cardio machine, lousy hours, and the risk of catching whatever loathsome social diseases that Gerv had when he was there. I was also put off by the lack of any gym near my office or apartment. So, after returning from the states, I had to lower my standards and go for somewhere that is not close, but at least easily accessible by public transport. Some clever Austrian built a gym called Fit Inn right on top of Hauptbanhof. I learned that this word means "Main train station" the dumb way. I noticed that both Bremen and Hamburg had a main train station called Hauptbanhof. Then I saw the same in Hannover. Wow, I thought, Mr. Hauptbanhof must have been a major contributor to the German train industry. Nice of them to name all the main train stations “Hauptbanhof” in his honor.

Fit Inn is an odd mix of high and low tech. After I started there on August 7, they added a drink bar. You pay €1,90 per week for unlimited drinks. The complete menu is: water, mineral water, and four fruit drinks (lime, apple-orange, peach, and black cassis). This may not sound impressive to readers who are very likely resting at the moment, but trust me, they seem much better after an hour abusing yourself. How do they tell if you paid for the drink bar? They have a fingerprint ID device next to the drink bar. It even works. The fingerprint device uses red laser scanners and then presents your fingerprint on a monitor, with an impressive-looking array of dots and lines much like something out of a crime drama, then presents your picture. This is actually neither expensive nor hi tech, but it seems cool to me. Fit Inn also has several TVs, like many modern gyms, but no fitness machines with their own video screens, like many modern and more expensive gyms. This leaves me spending literally an hour per day with 3 viewing options: something to read (hard to keep it steady while I’m vibrating a treadmill or elliptical); the blank machine or person in front of me (usually fat, sweaty, and male); and TV. I can’t hear the TV, which doesn’t really bug me, since I couldn’t understand it anyway. They play lots of things, including sports, talk shows, news, and music videos. Sports are best, since you don’t really need to hear it, and the more violent ones are inspiring when you’re trying to stay there for a full hour. There are exceptions; bantamweight boxing is demoralizing, since you have to watch two people with half your weight and a third your muscle mass who could both kick your ass. I swear they had a man wrestling a woman on WWF, and wonder if they actually have an inter-gender wrestling championship. They should call it the Andy Kaufman belt.

I got to see a lot of tennis, which I normally ignore, but is lulling and rhythmic when you have no other choice except jogging uphill in undistracted agony. Once, the channel changed from grown-up tennis to table tennis. Never do this, as it greatly erodes the majesty of the latter. The stadiums have fewer people, and they’re as glamorous as poker or Nascar fans. They have no ball-boys to run and pick up the ping pong balls and run out of the way as quickly and obsequiously as possible. They instead have to bend over and get them themselves. The players also periodically wipe off the table with their bare hands, a task that could also be delegated to ball-persons, and might even fool some viewers in to thinking it is necessary. (Why? The middle of the table gets sweaty? Dust accumulated over the last 10 minutes? Contamination from ping pong ball paint?) Players don’t even try to jump the net to shake hands, which would really add some good theater. The judge sits in a little chair, not an imperious throne where she can look down on an abusive McEnroe or Williams. I think Serena’s tirade would not have been so intimidating anyway. Threatening to cram a tennis ball down your throat is scary. A ping pong ball might cause moderate indigestion at worst. Or you could try to recover it via the Heimlich maneuver, and I think you should get double points if you can ace your opponent that way.

For such a formal and polite people, the Austrians have a bizarre take on locker room privacy. Your entry to the locker room is greeted with the famous “video ├╝berwaschung” sign that seems increasingly ubiquitous. The privacy people warned that accepting them in public squares meant they would migrate elsewhere. They were right. Video cameras in locker rooms! Worse, there is a cleaning woman there in the mornings. I learned this the hard way, changing at 6:30 AM, then looking up to see a maid clearly looking at me. At first, I thought, dagnab it, I dropped my trousers in the wrong place. Now I’ll get busted and humiliated and have to head home in ignominy. If I’m gonna suffer such a fate on an act of public indecency, I’d like to plan it out much better. But there was another guy changing not far away, so I realized this is evidently normal around here. At least the maid should learn not to gawk. I wonder if it’s a dream job to her, if she pays them for the privilege. And it is blatantly sexist; reverse the genders and you’d have a lawsuit.

For such a courteous, organized, and obedient people, Austrians are abysmal at reracking their weights. It is not a difference in expectations, since there are signs all over that tell you to do so. But they don’t. You want to find a pair of 12.5k kilo weights, you look on the ground, not on the racks. And they are typically separated, so you see a lot of people holding one weight in one hand while looking for its mate. Last night, the gym attendant saw me doing this, got up from his desk, and walked toward me. Good, I thought, he’s gonna do his job and rerack the weights. Instead, he asked me if I was done with the weights I was using. I said no. He asked if he could use them. I said, sure. He did a set of tricep kickbacks, put the weights on the bench, thanked me, and went back to his desk to attend to a customer who had been waiting for him.


Weights scattered on the floor at Fit Inn over Graz Hauptbanhof. Notice the gap on the right side of the weight rack, partly hidden by the incline bench and flat bench that are surrounded by unracked weights.

Speaking of racks, Fit Inn, like most public gyms, is 90% male. This is not because women don’t go to gyms. Rather, they go to gyms for women only to avoid men like me. Fitness For Her of La Jolla = Curves of Graz. There were some cuties there today, and they should get free membership or something because it does make men more likely to go and more happy about going. (Not unlike free ladies’ night at a bar.) This morning, I was starting my uphill trudge, trying not to think about the fact that I would be doing so for the next hour, when some local ladies mounted the treadmill in front of me and started a workout they really didn’t need. Now, where else should I look? It’s a choice between the really boring LED display on my elliptical machine, a TV that happened to be showing an infomercial for gambling (which are quite common out here), a sweaty copy of the IHT with maddening typos, the wall, or them. And the irony was, they had no idea I was paying any attention to them, yet they kept trying to run away, but didn’t go anywhere. I don’t know why you say goodbye; I say hello. (And, yes, you do too understand English.)

In related news, I hate losing weight in kilos. You feel like such an underachiever! And, thanks to more than a year of abstinence from gyms but not beer and schnitzel, it’ll probably be the end of this year before I can fit inn to those damn size 34 Levi’s 505s hanging in my closet in la Mesa, which were quite comfortable in Feb 2007. It’s tough staying motivated. I wonder how much makeup and bribery would be needed to get me in to Curves.

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